By Steve Wieberg
Dejan Kravic tipped in a missed three-point attempt with fourth-tenths of a second left to lift ninth-seeded Texas Tech over West Virginia, 71-69. The win is the Red Raiders' first in the Big 12 tournament in three years.
The 6-11 Kravic, who also hit a critical lay-in with 1:02 left, finished with 11 points and seven rebounds - including five offensive boards. Teammate Jaye Crockett hit all three of his three-point attempts en route to a game-high 18 points.
Tech, the Big 12's worst three-point shooting team during regular season, finished 8-for-12 behind the line.
There's light at the end of a long, difficult year for the Red Raiders.
They had Texas on the ropes in their final regular-season game last Saturday, but let a 17-point lead get away and wound up losing to the Longhorns in overtime. They similarly built an early 14 point lead against West Virginia, lost it, then gutted out a final, back-and-forth 8½ minutes.
They played the final 2:26 without second-leading scorer Jordan Tolbert, who fouled out.
Four times in the final minutes, they fell behind West Virginia. And each time, Tech immediately answered - the last time on a free throw by Crockett with a little less than two minutes remaining, then Kravic's lay-in to make it 69-68 with 1:02 left.
West Virginia's Deniz Kilicli set up the final dramatics, hitting one foul shot but missing his second with 20.1 seconds left to tie it.
"You see it on TV," Kravic said of his subsequent buzzer beater. "You never see it happen to you. So it was a crazy feeling."
Coach Chris Walker first put the ball in the hands of point guard Josh Gray, who drove to the basket and had a shot swatted away. The ball bounced to teammate Jamal Williams in the left corner, and he rushed an off-target three-pointer.
Kravic was there to tip it up and in.
"I just played it - it's a 40-minute game - just played it until the last second," Kravic said. "I saw the ball come toward me. I thought time was already expired, but I just put it up and made the shot in time."
Still recovering from the turmoil generated by the end of Billy Gillispie's coaching tenure, Texas Tech lost 11 of its last 12 regular-season games and finished next-to-last in the Big 12 with a 3-15 league record. Overall, the Red Raiders are 11-19. The last two weeks have delivered some hope, however: a nine-point win over TCU, the near-miss against Texas, now the mild upset of eighth-seeded West Virginia.
Walker has spent the season as interim coach. Is it enough to get him a permanent appointment?
He points to progress.
"Nothing good could happen unless you have a good attitude," he said. "There's guys playing hard out there. You get a little bit lucky (on the put-back). I will accept that because that's part of the culture of our program."
West Virginia (13-19) was left to mull a seventh consecutive loss on the 864-mile trip back to Morgantown. The Mountaineers wrapped up a rough inaugural season in the Big 12, leaving coach Bob Huggins with his first losing record in conference play (6-12) since he was at Akron and in the Mid-American in 1985. West Virginia will sit out the NCAA tournament for the first time in Huggins' six seasons at the school.
Freshman Terry Henderson scored 12 points, Aaric Murray 11 and Kilicli 10 as the Mountaineers erased their early deficit against Texas Tech, then moved ahead and in position to win. But they didn't help themselves at the end, missing three of their final six foul shots.
"Eron (Harris) makes a block on the ball," Huggins said of the final, deciding sequence of plays, "and unfortunately it gets knocked to them. I mean, if it bounces over the rim, we rebound. And it didn't bounce over the rim.
"We didn't block out, either, though."
Texas Tech meets top-seeded Kansas at 2 p.m. CT Thursday. KU overwhelmed the Raiders twice during the regular season, 60-46 in Lubbock and 79-42 in Lawrence.